It's hard to win Division I lacrosse games. It's true! You have to go out, each and every year, and punch people in the nose and hope that they don't punch back any harder and turn your face into an abstract interpretation of a skull. For programs that don't have a stable of mercenaries ready to step in and continue the pummeling, the difficulty of consistently winning games from season to season is even more pronounced. This is why, after putting together a terrific effort in 2013 (the Red Foxes went 10-4 last season, winning the MAAC regular season title), concern surrounds Marist's 2014 campaign.
The Red Foxes have been on a solid trajectory over the last few years. The team's performance progression since 2010 has reflected a slow growth of potential:
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Yet, those efforts may not accurately reflect what Marist's ceiling is this coming spring. After a historic season last year, the Red Foxes are facing a situation where 2013's reality may diverge significantly from their existence in 2014:
- The team ran with 13 -- !!! -- seniors on their roster in 2013. That's a lot of leadership that is now spending their days making terrible jokes about how bad Mondays are and the pain their managers create in their lives.
- Marist started the same 10 players in every one of their 14 games last year. Six of those players are now-graduated seniors. Starts don't always matter, but those departed starts saw a lot of important game action for the Red Foxes and the chemistry they created isn't easily duplicated.
- 16 players on the Red Foxes' roster participated in all 14 games that Marist played in 2013. Of that group, nine were seniors. Again: That's a lot of hardened game experience that creates a void that needs to be filled.
- Keegan Wilkinson, Marist's third-year head coach, will need to plug some serious holes. Two-thirds of the team's starting attack is gone (Connor Rice and Jack Doherty) and the Red Foxes' entire starting close defense (Patrick Wall, T.J. McDermott, and Ethan Fox) are no long carrying around Marist I.D. cards. That's five big cogs to the Red Foxes' machine that need to be replaced.
- It's not just that Marist lost bodies, though. It's that the team lost talented bodies: Rice, Doherty, and Fox were first-team All-MAAC last season; Jim Marks and McDermott were given All-MAAC second-team honors in 2013; and Rice was the league's offensive player of the year a season ago. These cats didn't just provide Marist value; they were valuable relative to the whole of Marist's league.
- When you start pouring through the Red Foxes' stat sheet, the production vacuum that Marist is facing becomes more clear:
- Rice, Doherty, and Marks combined for 41.32 percent of the team's goals in 2013, 53.54 percent of the Red Foxes' assists, 45.86 percent of Marist's points, and 40.80 percent of the team's shots. The losses of Rice and Doherty are especially notable given the load they carried last year: Rice accounted for 30.30 percent of Marist's helpers last year and 18.42 percent of the team's total points; Doherty accounted for 19.76 percent of the team's total tallies and 16.92 percent of the Red Foxes' point total.
- Marist, a team that earned about 35 percent of its offensive opportunities last season through face-off wins, will need to replace the services of Matt Dugan, a specialist that drew at 55.3 percent last season and took over 75 percent of the team's total draws in 2013.
This, however, isn't a guaranteed death situation for the red-and-white. Dave Scarcello returns to the crease for the Red Foxes, Patrick Eaker (the MAAC's co-long stick of the year last season) is back at the pole, and dangerous offensive weapons are still kicking around Poughkeepsie. While these offensive weapons didn't maintain the responsibility of Rice, Doherty, and Marks, they weren't mere side cars last season:
- Joseph Radin earned the MAAC's rookie of year honors in 2013. He'll likely anchor the team's attack in the absence of Rice and Doherty.
- The team's primary offensive weapons returning in 2014 -- Radin, Drew Nesmith, Mike Begley, and Gannon Osborn -- accounted for 41.92 percent of Marist's goals in 2013, 35.35 percent of the team's assists, 39.47 percent of the Red Foxes' total points, and 43.75 percent of the team's shots. There was a sense of balance in Marist's offense last year, even if the team’s secondary weapons were potentially able to thrive thanks to the performances of Rice and Doherty.
- The team will feature six seniors in 2014, a solid leadership group that has ridden with Wilkinson as their prophet for most of their career. A solid chunk of seniors can do wonders on the practice field and in the locker room, even if this group accounted for exactly zero starts last season.
It's an interesting situation in Poughkeepsie, one that many programs in Marist's position have struggled to overcome. "Next guy up!" is a favored phrase for many, but the actual execution of that philosophy oftentimes doesn't work out well. For the Red Foxes in 2014, they'll be approaching that situation while also attempting to keep the program's momentum going in the right direction.